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Sunday, August 27, 2017

Education Write Now: Changing the Way We Think About Relationships

This summer was full of many adventures for me. I flew down into the heart of the Grand Canyon in a helicopter, and I coauthored my very first book titled Education Write Now! I am excited to be able to share some behind-the-scenes insights about this special project with you.

When I was first invited to join the Education Write Now team by Jeff Zoul and Joe Mazza, I was intimidated looking at the list of people I would be writing with. My coauthors are absolutely my education heros, and to have my name on the cover of a book with them is an incredibly humbling honor. Each of them epitomize what it means to be passionate about education, and they consistently put the needs of kids first. If you want to improve your practices or just be inspired by the amount of drive and energy of this group, check out their social media accounts.

The premise of this book is unique for a few reasons.

First, we all flew into Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for a writer’s retreat for about 72 hours. The goal was to write the entire book (55,000+ words) during our stay. We were each challenged with writing our own chapter, or about 5,000 words. During the 72 hours, we had a regimented schedule that included time to check in with writing partners for feedback, invaluable writing tips and tricks from Routledge Publishing Company, as well as time to write alone. I learned a lot about myself as a writer during these few days. I do my best writing away from everyone else. In fact, most of my chapter was written on day two between the hours of midnight and three o’clock in the morning while alone in my hotel room working in my pj’s. I guess you never know when inspiration is going to hit you.

Second, each of the authors wrote about something urgent in education right now. I had some ideas about what I wanted to write about and topics that were on my heart and burning in my soul lately regarding education. Before my trip, I crowdsourced on Instagram and asked my followers (most of which are educators) what they’d like to see me write about. Overwhelmingly, they asked me to write about standardized assessment pressures, flexible seating and classroom design, and relationships. Luckily for me, those are three topics I felt pretty comfortable with. The topics were determined during the first day of the retreat, and I got to write about relationships in education. #luckyme #winning Specifically, I wrote about ways to build relationships between educators and students, between students, and between educators and families. My chapter offers research as well and simple practical ideas and tips (both my ideas and ideas I received from my PLN on instagram) to implement right away.

Third, while I follow each of the writers on social media, this retreat was the first time actually meeting some of them face-to-face in real life. The respect I have for each of the people I coauthored with grew every hour. They challenged me, supported me, and believed in me. They became more than just coauthors. They became friends.

I hope you’ll enjoy reading this expert from my chapter of the book, Changing the Way We Think About Relationships…
Relationships Between Educators and Their Students
I once had a principal approach me a few weeks into school saying he noticed how much effort I was putting into teaching the expectations, routines, and norms. In his next sentence, he expressed concern that I had not dove deeply enough into our content yet. He asked me when I was going to get going on all of the curriculum. I told him that the first six weeks of school were foundational for the relationships I needed to establish and nurture. How could I expect students to learn from me if they did not understand me or trust me? I convinced my principal that I had a handle on everything and that I knew exactly what I was trying to do. As a result of this investment up front, we did not spend much time later that year dealing with management or expectations. Sure, some students needed reminders from time to time, but for the most part we could focus on learning and growing together. My students averaged a growth of 1.9 grade levels that year academically according to our end of the year standardized test (which by the way, relationships are not measured on). I am confident that we would not have seen as much growth if we had not taken the time early in the year to put the focus where it needed to be:  relationships and growing as a classroom family. The following ideas have been classroom tested and are approved by fabulous educators around the world to help empower your students and strengthen your relationship with them.

  • Establish a new tradition to deliver words of affirmation consistently. Each Friday, I write love notes to every single student in my class and I stick it right to their mailbox. I do not write the same message for every child, nor do I write paragraphs for each child. Each child receives a simple sticky note with a unique comment or note from me about something I appreciated or noticed that week. Often times, my students collect these notes in their take-home binders or inside of their lockers. They take such pride in receiving an individualized love note. And you know what’s even cooler? Seeing my kids begin to write love notes to each other and even me. I started to collect the notes throughout the year and displayed them around my bookshelf. I wanted to show kids that I valued their love as much as the valued mine. I have really grown in that respect throughout my career. During the early years of my teaching, if a student told me they loved me, I would often reply with a “thanks” or an awkward hug. I was trained not to be my students’ friends and not to get too personal or close with them. I even had an educator once tell me not to smile until December! That does not work for me. My mom, Deb Hoerth, is my inspiration in all things elementary education. She was my kindergarten teacher, and now in her forty-second year of teaching, she epitomizes what it means to love kids, and I do not recall a single day that she did not smile at us. As a third grade teacher, I tell my students I love them often even if they do not say it first, and #lovenoteFriday is a favorite tradition of mine and the students I serve. Regardless of whether you serve ten kids or hundreds of kids, if you make this tradition or something similar an intentional priority, it will become a reality in your school.
  • Attend your students’ activities outside of school. I can not even begin to count the number of hockey games, baseball games, gymnastics meets, basketball practices at the YMCA (yes, you read that right), swim meets, dance recitals, or Lego league events I have attended over the past ten years. At the beginning of each quarter, I text families asking for the schedule of extracurricular events their children participate in. I explain that I think it is imperative that students know I value them as people and that all of their interests matter to me. Most of the time, parents are surprised that I would take time out of my non-contracted personal life to support their students. For me, I cannot imagine it any other way. Obviously, I cannot attend every event of every child, but I do make every effort to attend at least one event of each child. Yes, I am spending a couple of hours on a weeknight or a Saturday at the event, but the look on the child’s face when they glance over to the sidelines and see me is invaluable. Also, the two hour investment I made on a Saturday pays huge dividends for the entire school year. A modification of this idea comes from Katie Van Dam in Coolidge, Arizona. She puts up a large calendar in her classroom where her students write their special activities like baseball or soccer games. She is able to see which events she can attend, and she said her students use the calendar to attend each other's activities as well. That’s a win-win!


While this was just a short sneak peek of my writing, I hope you enjoyed it. This post is actually the third in a series of posts by each of the coauthors about the experience.  You can check out Jeff’s post here and Tony’s post here. The fourth post will be published by one of my new friends, Starr Sackstein. You’ll want to check out what she has to say about this project!

Kayla Dornfeld
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[name=Kayla Delzer] [img=] [description=Award-Winning 3rd Grade Teacher. International Keynote Speaker. Classroom Designer. Flexible Seating Guru. TEDx Speaker. Columnist. Technology Champion. Digital Citizenship Expert.]

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